IMPLEMENTATION STRATEGIES WORK GROUP
Present: Judge Deborah Fleck, Judge Stephen Dwyer, John Alexander, Matt Anderson, Cam Hall, Senator Stephen Johnson, Carmen Butler representing Representative Pat Lantz, Wayne Blair, Mary McQueen, Judge Eileen Kato, Councilmember Kathy Lambert, Judge Dick McDermott, Judge Jim Murphy, Michele Radosevich, Judge John Schultheis, Judge Chip Small, Rowland Thompson, Gail Stone, and Jeff Hall
Scribe: Jan Nutting
Task Force Update
A joint meeting of the Board for Judicial Administration, the Superior Court Judges Association Board, the District and Municipal Court Judges Association Board, and the co-chairs of the Court Funding Task Force Work Groups was held on June 20th. The Court Funding Task Force work group co-chairs’ then continued to meet through Saturday afternoon.
Individual work groups continue to meeting regularly and the Task Force is making progress.
Problem Definition Work Group
Jeff Hall walked the group through the ‘Onion Chart’ developed by the Problem Definition Work Group. This tool was designed to assist in defining the functions for which the trial courts are responsible.
The group’s intention is first to define general trial court responsibilities, and second to name the activities necessary to ensure and protect constitutional rights. There has been a great deal of discussion regarding the inclusion of indigent defense as a central function; that question has not yet been resolved.
Some debate followed concerning the mixed signals conveyed by the onion chart layout. It was decided that a different format would avoid giving the impression that some functions/layers were more important or more favored for funding than others.
A slow-motion train wreck was the metaphor chosen to depict the court funding crisis in Washington State. Compared with other states, Washington State is still in the early stages of the wreck.
Judicial salaries, staff salaries, and benefits represent the majority (about 80%) of court spending. Because those amounts are universally identified and separated, expenditures for salaries and benefits are the focus of the study in progress. Interstate information regarding FY 2000 is being collected and staffing levels compared to our own. (Maricopa County, with a model court system known for its efficiencies, has four times the staff per judge as compared to King County. Reducing staff does not always result in savings.)
Other trial court costs are not as easily identified, since auditors’ codes are not used consistently and line items are not always separate.
Jeff Hall has developed a program (SimGap) for the purpose of experimenting with funding levels for judicial positions and non-judicial staff. Jeff will keep the work group apprised of his progress and demonstrate what can be done with the program when it is finished.
Funding Alternatives Work Group
Court fees are the focus of many Funding Alternatives discussions. Research is being done to determine whether court fees are a possible solution to the funding dilemma. The experiences of other states and the United Kingdom are being considered. The impact of user fees on access to justice and equal protection is being considered carefully.
The PSEA Account is being examined. Changes to the account have brought about unintended consequences, and it no longer fully serves its intended purpose. Funds are now being split among many diverse recipients. Additionally, PSEA Funds are costly to distribute and audit. Councilmember Lambert believes that legislators view it as a “deep pockets account.”
A very useful ‘data snapshot’ was presented by Kirk Johns. The document will be reviewed and forwarded to the Implementation Strategies Work Group.
There is tension surrounding the concepts being discussed in the Funding Alternatives Work Group. Local courts need to know what strings will be attached should the state contribute more funding.
Courts of Limited Jurisdiction Work Group
This group is addressing the operation of courts of limited jurisdiction. These include
The recent court funding crisis in King County and the associated contracting issues have brought a great deal of attention to district and municipal court relationships. RCW Title 3 will be reviewed with the intention of answering questions regarding the establishment of municipal courts, the level of service to be rendered by small courts, the use of inter-local agreements, and the issues related to juries.
An independent consulting company, the Justice Management Institute, is compiling solid information for this work group’s consideration.
The goal of the Courts of Limited Jurisdiction Work Group is to offer an agreed-upon piece of legislation to the legislature in December.
Review of Guiding Principles
Members of the Implementation Strategies Work Group were asked to review the Guiding Principles (distributed to the group) and send comments to Jeff Hall or Jan Nutting for consideration by the group. Staff will remind the group prior to the next meeting.
Road Maps Document Discussion
Judge Fleck’s synopsis of the American Bar Association’s Road Maps Document was reviewed. Salient points included:
Kirk Johns’ memo to the steering committee outlines an incremental approach for securing long-term court funding. Copies of this memo will be made available to the group.
For court funding changes to be included in the biennial budget, work must begin during the 2004 Legislative Session. New legislators should be contacted in November, December, and January so that they gain a thorough understanding of the issues and are familiar with Implementation Strategies representatives.
The Task Force must develop and communicate a coherent rationale for the state to step up to a higher level of responsibility for funding the trial courts. The legislature then needs time to absorb the information and go beyond initial emotional reactions.
The Implementation Strategies Work Group will identify partners from all sectors and work with city, county, state, and media representatives to foster understanding of the need for stable court funding. (A note was made to consider including a county commissioner in the work group.)
Education of the legislature and the public is of the utmost importance. The Public Education Work Group is working to establish connections in civic groups and other venues offering an opportunity for Trial Court Funding Task Force representatives to speak. The Public Education Group plans to produce speaker packages and tools for the Implementation Strategies group to use when presenting the need for trial court funding and solutions for the funding dilemma. Perhaps a presentation can be made at the ABA Conference in February as a judicial outreach activity.
Judge Small suggested seeking the guidance of a professional public relations firm as the group prepares to send its message out.
An accountability mechanism should be built in to the funding package from the beginning, affirming the judicial branch’s ability to police itself. As funding sources change, it will be important to avoid surrendering control.
It is possible that the proposal may be for a funding shift rather than a funding increase.
It will be important to present solutions to the legislature, detailing solid funding without confusing mechanisms.
The concept of a Trial Court Trust Fund, recently established in the state of California, has been studied ( http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/reference/documents/tcfnews.pdf).
In that scenario, contributions are received from various government sources. The counties’ funding level is capped, and the state’s contribution fills the gap between trial court costs and county funding. As funding needs increase over time, the state’s contribution grows proportionately. This method creates no immediate impact to the state budget, but provides the state with a gradually increasing portion of the responsibility for trial court funding.
The role of the Implementation Strategies Work Group in gaining the trust and cooperation of legislators, prosecutors, counties, and the public will be important, regardless of the path chosen for future court funding.
The next meeting of the Implementation Strategies Work Group will be held after the preliminary findings of the other work groups have been presented to the Trial Court Funding Task Force in early September (the date is tentative).
Issues to be addressed at the next meeting of the Implementation Strategies Work Group include:
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